There are a lot of newcomers to the Internet of Things (IoT) and Machine to Machine (M2M) space lately. Many of them love to speak authoritatively and often use vending machines as their favorite example use case to illustrate the value of IoT.
When you see me use vending machines in a similar fashion, it’s not because of an article I read, a slide deck I copied, or a bandwagon I jumped on. It’s because I actually built this stuff twenty years ago with a group of visionaries and the best engineers I’ve ever worked with in my career.
We didn’t wait until vending machines became intelligent and wireless technologies became pervasive. We took the overwhelming population of unintelligent, fully mechanical vending machines and made them intelligent with our embedded technologies to unlock their insights. Wireless data coverage was a nightmare and the cost per byte would seem insane by today’s standards, but we weren’t going to force route drivers to visit and plugin to vending machines to find out what was going on. We created tiny, bit-encoded data packets on null-modem cables that we brought to a multitude of wireless technologies in order to create cost-effective coverage in the markets we served. Oftentimes, we created our own modems to bounce packets off business radio towers. Yes, we realized that giving each machine an antenna in a bank of vending machines was inefficient so we created gateway technology. As our software analyzed the telemetry we streamed from thousands of vending machines, we brought to life the game-changing insights I see companies “discovering” today. Our company was called Real Time Data and we brought things like real time inventory management, dynamic routing, predictive failure analysis, intelligent merchandising, revenue forecasting, theft alerts and many other insights to an industry run on quarters and dimes. We didn’t have the Internet to connect our “things” to. We either used or created our own private data networks.
These days when I meet around a camp fire with the wireless telemetry pioneers I worked with all those years ago, we often laugh about how easy it would be to recreate these solutions today. Machines and sensors are now intelligent, wireless data networks are cheap and pervasive, IPv6 means we can connect almost anything, off the shelf analytics tools abound, machine learning is here, and cloud computing power is almost limitless. We used to call some of this stuff SCADA, but you can call this combination of streaming telemetry plus command and control the Internet of Things. Now is the time to seize the opportunity right there in front of you to revolutionize your business. It’s all about reducing expenses, boosting customer satisfaction and increasing revenue.